The Florida State Fair celebrates its 110th year in 2014, and as the first state fair in the calendar year, the Sunshine State will have the honor to usher in the newest and coolest in rides, fair food, and fair entertainment. The State Fair will be held at the Florida State Fairgrounds (4800 US Hwy. 301 N.), near the Interstate 4/Interstate 75 interchange in Tampa, for twelve straight days, from Thursday, February 6 to Monday, February 17.
Since Florida is indeed the first state fair of the year in the U.S., the theme this year is “1st Place for Fun.” The Florida State Fair boasts the largest independent midway and the largest traveling roller coaster in North America. Also, the Florida State Fair is unique in that a traveling upscale boutique, called the Mobile Chic Van, will be on-site to sell everything from hot new clothing designs for women to diamonds, amber and Australian opal gemstones. Tastes of Westshore and Hyde Park come to the Fairgrounds with the advent of the Chic Van.
The 2014 fair boasts the biggest ride offering in Florida State Fair history, with over 110 rides for all ages. New rides for 2014 include the Comet II, the aforementioned largest traveling roller coaster in North America. This ride for teenagers and adults will feature hairpin turns, quick drops and very fast speeds. Also coming to the Fair in 2014 is the Himalaya ride Hit In 2000, which will take riders round and round the track at a high speed, complemented with a light show. Other new exhibits include the surfing simulator Surf’s Up, the thrill ride Top Spin, the two-story mirror maze and fun house Magic Maze, and the family ride Charlie Chopper, which will give riders views of the fair 50 feet above the ground.
Some people come to the fair specifically for the food. The days of funnel cakes and fried Twinkies are gone; a lot of the food is now much more innovative. Florida introduced the Krispy Kreme burger to the state fair circuit in recent years and it became a nationwide conversation topic — polarizing, people loved the taste or thought it was a perfect example of American fast food excess. This year’s options promise to be no different; they will have everyone talking (and eating).
The Florida State Fair Authority believes the one fair food that will catch on this year is the “Ramen Noodle Burger.” It consists of an all-beef hamburger inside a ramen noodle bun, with Asian slaw and an Oriental Sauce mixture of mayonnaise, ketchup, soy sauce, hoisin and sugar. Other options include the Caribbean-inspired curried goat with dumplings, the very Canadian bacon maple funnel cake, and a “tornado dog,” a hot dog wrapped in spiral cut potatoes and deep fried. Can you hear your arteries harden just from reading that last one? Look for the “Healthier Burger,” a soy burger inside a whole wheat bagel, topped with provolone cheese, parmesan-crusted eggplant and your choice of vegetables. For a definite “unhealthier” burger, try the “3 Bs”: burger, bacon and beef brisket, on garlic toast with provolone cheese and a choice of either horseradish, steak sauce, or barbecue sauce!
Another fun aspect of the Florida State Fair is its live entertainment. Many musical acts come every year to perform their hits. The headliner this year is America, one of the most popular duos of the 1970s and 1980s, who sang such adult contemporary staples as “I Need You,” “Horse with No Name,” “Sister Golden Hair” and “You Can Do Magic.” They will be performing on the Fair’s opening night. Gainesville natives Sister Hazel, well-known in the alternative music scene starting in the late 1990s with hits like “All For You,” will be performing at the Fair on February 13. Rock singer Uncle Kracker, perhaps best known for his songs “Follow Me” and the double-platinum “Smile,” will close out the Fair on February 17. All performances start at 7 p.m. and are free with regular fair admission.
Ticket prices for the Florida State Fair are $9 for aduts, $7 for seniors (only on select senior days, $9 all other days) and $5 for children ages 6-11. Children 5 and under are admitted for free. Ride armbands cost $25 in advance. Advance tickets are available at Walgreens and participating AAA locations and Travel Centers in Belleair, Bradenton, Brandon, Carrollwood, Clearwater, Lady Lake, Lake Sumter Landing, Lakeland, Lakewood Ranch, New Tampa, Palm Harbor, Port Richey, Quest South in Orlando, Sarasota, Seminole, Spring Hill, St. Petersburg, Sun City Center, Tampa and Trinity.
For ticket assistance, call 1-800-345-FAIR (3247). For ride armband discounts, themed days and evening hours on weekends, see the website at floridastatefair.com. The Florida State Fair Authority is also on facebook at facebook.com/floridastatefairgrounds and on Twitter at @flstfairgrounds.